Beer Is a Cheese’s Best Friend
During Brewtopia, we welcomed Greg Engert, beer director of Neighborhood Restaurant Group in Washington, D.C., to our cooking school. The renowned beer expert, recognized in Food & Wine as one of the country’s best sommeliers, taught his lucky students how to pair beer with cheese—and that night we learned as much about cheese as we did about the featured craft brews.
We wanted to impart some of Greg’s wisdom during Meet the Cheeses, our second annual festival of fromage. This month cheese is the star, but every star needs a stellar supporting cast, right?
The big takeaway: beer is cheese’s better half. “Beer always shows a degree of residual sweetness, as opposed to wine, which almost always ferments dry and proffers acidity,” he says. Because of that residual sweetness, beer compliments most food, unlike wine, which, because of the acid, tends to offer balancing, or contrasting flavors.
“While we find sweetness in many of the things we eat—sugar, but also starch, protein, butter and fat—acidity is less prevalent, so beer can further accentuate existing flavors in a dish,” he says. “Wine joins the dish as a sort of final, separate, ingredient—a sort of final saucing or seasoning of the dish.” Bottom line: beer and cheese are made for each other. “Cheeses epitomize the rule of residual sweetness in foods,” he says. “They are loaded with protein and butterfat.”
Beer’s effervescence also plays an important role. “Beer explodes into the richness of the cheese and insists on being tasted in congress with the cheese. Because the sweeter flavors of each are so complimentary, you don’t know where the cheese ends and the beer begins.”
Wine gets a lot of glory when it comes to food pairings, but it doesn’t always suit cheese—especially if the wine is dry. The sweetness of the cheese makes dry wines drier. That said, cheese can also make bad wine good. ”Fat and protein-laden cheese is unctuous,” he says. “It literally sticks to your palate and your tongue, blocking flavor receptors. Get a box of Franzia and some cheese, and the wine can taste awesome. But cheese will also block the more impressive flavor nuances of great wine.”
Although it’s not the only approach, when pairing beer with food, a great way to start is to accent what’s already on the plate by choosing beers that mirror some of the same characteristics found in the food. “Beer continues the work of the farmer and the chef by further championing the inherent flavors of the ingredients and the dish itself,” he says. However, don’t discount the complement-by-contrast approach, or what he calls “confluence by seeming incompatibility.” Raw oysters with Guinness? You bet.
So let’s get down to the good stuff. Here are Greg’s recommendations. Use this as a cheat sheet for your next shindig, and you’ll be the host with the most.
Duchesse de Bourgogne and Taleggio. This cheese is aromatic and funky, with a fruity tang. Fresh and fruity Duchesse, with a slightly rustic note, is also a favorite of our Fort Worth beer and wine manager, JR Clark.
Stone Smoked Porter and San Simon. Here is a roasty, semi-dry showing a touch of smoke—a harmonious match for the lightly smoky, firm Spanish San Simon.
St. Arnold Weedwacker and Bucheron. The cheese has a bloomy, soft rind and a slightly crumbly texture. Sweet and effervescent Weedwacker is “somewhat of a hefeweizen” with notes of lemon, banana, clove and bubble gum (!). The beer would also work with softer, smokier cheeses.
Sixth Glass Quadrupel and Humboldt Fog. The caramelized sweetness of the quadrupel compliments earthy richness of Humboldt Fog.
Anchor Porter and Petit Basque. Roasty porter marries well with this salted, pressed sheep’s milk cheese aged for richness. This beer would be great with charred meats, too.
Full Sail Wassail and Blue Stilton. Maltier, grain-driven Wassail works magic with the creamiest of the blues. It finishes dry and caramel-y, with a port-like effect.
Lost Gold IPA and New Zealand 4-year-old cheddar. The IPA starts fruity but has a herbaceous bitterness on the finish, thanks to the hops. The cheese is sharp and tangy.
Rahr & Sons Oktoberfest and Appenzeller Classic. “Musty toast,” “slightly burnt edges” and “funkiness underneath” were recurring phrases during this tasting. A more aged cheese probably wouldn’t work here.